Its safe to say that come Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, both Rashad Evans and Tito Ortiz will be a far more concerned with whom theyre fighting rather than where.
Both Evans and Ortiz enter their bout at UFC 133 under unconventional circumstances. Evans, 31, hasnt fought in 14 months, his last fight a victory over Quinton Rampage Jackson on May 29, 2010.
Ortiz, one of UFCs original stars and a mixed martial arts pioneer, had lost five consecutive bouts dating back to 2006 before tapping out Ryan Bader on July 2 in a victory that revitalized the 36-year-olds sputtering career.
So Evans (20-1-1) will arrive in Philly coming off the longest fight layoff, he said, of his life and after a hectic lead up to a fight in which he saw his opponent change four times.
Im very anxious to get back in the cage. Its been a long 14 months, Evans said in a conference call last week. I had no idea I was going to be out this long, but things happen and circumstances arise.
Meanwhile, Ortiz (17-8-1) gets an out-of-nowhere shot at one of the light heavyweight divisions top contenders in Evans a mere five weeks after his last appearance in the octagon with less than four weeks to prepare.
A lot had to happen for the unlikely matchup to fall in place. The main event was originally slated to be a title bout for the light heavyweight crown, with Evans challenging champion Jon Jones. But Jones was forced to withdraw from the card with a hand injury. Then burgeoning light heavyweight Phil Davis, who was slated to fight in Joness place, hurt his knee and was scratched.
Unsure where to turn, UFC president Dana White asked Ortiz to take the fight in a last-ditch effort to create some buzz around the erstwhile title weekend. Ortiz said no thanks.
It was then former champion Lyoto Machidas fight to be had, but the Brazilian reportedly asked for too rich of a purse and White declined to sign off. That opened the door for Ortiz to change his mind. After some time to consider, he took the fight, despite a clearly diminished form, but with a big name that could spur high pay-per-view purchases.
It all measures to be one odd main event when UFC makes its second appearance in Philadelphia, nearly two years to the day since UFC 101 came to the state of Pennsylvania for the first time, garnering a 3.55 million gate.
Then, in August of 2009, UFC drew a crowd of 17,411 to South Philly. At the time White lauded the town as one of the great fight cities in the country, in a place where fans are infamous for their tough and gritty nature.
Now, Ortiz is drawing on a familiar Philadelphia fight legend to help inspire what would be a major upset against Evans.
Ive always been a huge Rocky fan, Ortiz said. Its kind of funny because, in my gym, theres guys boxing and theres a Rocky picture of him standing at the top of the Art Museum stairs. Its just does everything really happen in life for a reason? And thats my question."
He added: I think Philly is going to feed that much more emotion into me and Ive very thankful for it. I think thats one of the reasons that I did take the fight. Knowing that Im healthy and Im willing to fight, Im willing to step up.
Maybe where this fight is taking place is playing a role?
Evans, by contrast, isnt evoking much spirituality when it comes to this fight. After all, Saturday was supposed to mark his chance at regaining the light heavyweight title, a belt he last held in 2009 when he fell in the second round to Machida. So, it would seem, a last minute replacement fight with a fading star would lack some luster for Evans.
But if Evans defeats Ortiz, that title shot with Jones is certain to be his next fight. He must first cross the Ortiz bridge.
Asked if the fights location was something Evans considered, he replied that he has never before been to Philadelphia. Evans, however, commented on the importance of atmosphere in a fight venue.
Its great to be fighting in a city that has that great fighting history because then, those fans, they get up for it and it makes it that much easier to me to get up for the fight when I got to go out there because you can feel the energy, Evans said. Right when I walk out, and do that long walk to the cage, the energy that I get the minute that curtains raised, the minute they play that music and the fans are just going crazy, thats the energy I take when I go into that cage.
And its very important. And having a city like Philly, with that great fight history, will definitely bring me at my highest before I step into that cage.
It will be the second time Ortiz and Evans square off, the last fight resulting in a draw in 2007. In that bout, Ortiz was hit with a point deduction, a penalty that proved pivotal and allowed the bout to conclude without a victor. Its a result that has tormented Evans for years.
I felt horrible about the performance, he said. I felt horrible about the performance for years. Its one of those fights you just want to get back.
Evans will have a chance to exercise those demons in mere days. Ortiz, meanwhile, is tapping into 14 years of experience and residual confidence in an attempt to keep his comeback tour alive.
Ortiz said Thursday that he believes his primary advantage over Evans is his heart; the same iconic quality that drove the fabled story of Rocky Balboa. He said he wouldnt have accepted the fight if he didnt think he could win it.
I think Im capable of it, Ortiz said of his winning chances, and I know Im capable to do it in Philly.
E-mail Evan Burgos at firstname.lastname@example.org